Tuesday is a primary election, but it’s likely to be the deciding vote in the Rock County clerk race.
Yuri Rashkin, a county board member, is challenging incumbent Clerk Lisa Tollefson in the Democratic primary.
No one else is running for the office, so it’s likely Tuesday’s winner will be the next clerk, barring the unlikely event of a successful write-in campaign.
Rashkin has pointed out election-related errors that occurred on Tollefson’s watch, including leaving a name off the ballot for about 200 absentee voters in the spring county board elections, which Tollefson corrected by issuing new ballots. The candidate won.
Another mistake was an election-night clerical error that resulted in the misreporting of the Janesville School Board elections in April 2016. A candidate thought she had won, only to find out later she had lost.
Tollefson said she takes responsibility for the errors and has implemented measures she believes will prevent them in the future.
She points out that Rashkin doesn’t have her extensive background in running elections, as detailed below.
The clerk’s office issues marriage licenses, processes passport applications and handles county board minutes, in addition to running elections and other duties.
The chairman of the Republican Party of Rock County has urged members to vote for Tollefson, raising the question of politics in the clerk’s office.
Gazette: Should political ideology drive the work of a county clerk?
Rashkin: “I think county clerk is a nonpartisan position. I think each individual elected brings a certain set of values, and I’m proud to be a Democrat. But the job itself is nonpolitical, and party affiliation simply doesn’t affect the job.”
Tollefson: “It should not (because) a county clerk doesn’t have any voting power to change laws.”
Gazette: Is it your job to increase voter turnout, as Rashkin has suggested he would do?
Rashkin: “I think it’s an amazing opportunity to be the key person whose job it is to increase voter turnout, and I think it’s one of the ways you can assess overall effectiveness of the clerk, is how they’re getting the community engaged.”
Tollefson: “State Statute 59.23 lists all the different things I am supposed to do, and increasing voter turnout actually isn’t listed in the state statutes. I want our voters to be educated and vote. I don’t want someone picking a candidate without doing the research to understand what they’re voting on (and) what a difference it will make on their ballot.”
Gazette: What are your qualifications to serve as clerk?
Rashkin: “My qualifications come from having been elected to several different positions, such as the Janesville City Council and Rock County Board of Supervisors. So, having experience with the election process for several cycles, but also my training, having a master’s degree and teaching at the college level, which means presenting information to people not familiar with it and developing that in the form of a curriculum is something I’m familiar with. ... And I’m a certified court interpreter in Wisconsin and Illinois, and I understand the value and importance of following the law.”
Tollefson: “I was a municipal clerk for six years prior to becoming the county clerk. I attended the UW-Green Bay County Clerks Institute. … I am a certified Wisconsin municipal clerk; another whole slew of training goes into earning that certification. I am also a Wisconsin-certified election trainer, which requires that you have administered elections for at least five years. … I have a certificate of professional development through the Wisconsin County Clerks Association. That’s another slew of training, which is not just elections but has to do with (running) our office. I have taken courses through the National Organization of Election Officials.”